Kurt X. Metzmeier's blog

Don't Panic: Facts versus Rumor Regarding the Swine Flu


With the 24-hour news media in full-lather and the #swineflu hashtag trending to the top of Twitter Search, as a information professional I feel impelled to rap my ruler sharply on the table and tell everyone to calm down and get the facts! Luckily, there is a place for this, the CDC Swine Flu page at the website of the federally-funded Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. Another source of information is the English language version of the World Health Organization's (WHO) Disease Outbreak News webpage.

Of course, if you really want to panic, please feel free to Google "swine flu plot."  A recent search showed pages linking the outbreak to separate conspiracies launched by "the Jews," Satan, the CIA, anti-immigrant groups from the US far right, and the American pharmaceutical industry. The Freemasons, the Vatican, Queen Elizabeth and Al-Qaeda need to step up their game...

Yet More Legal Ephemera: The Future Justice and the Broadway Actress


This item is a Senate chamber gallery pass issued by Sen. Hugo Black (D-Ala), a future senator, to a Miss Mary Orr, who may be the future author of a story that became an Oscar-winning movie.*  These passes are not extremely rare, as they were issued frequently and most, including this one, had a stamped signature, not an autograph. (See "Justice Sherman Minton: A Bridge Between Eras" for another example)   Nonetheless, like all historical artifacts they are an emotional connection to the past, a tangible, material item held by a real person who was a eyewitness to history.

Besides its association with a justice of the Supreme Court, date of the pass is the most interesting thing about this item.  It was issued in April 1, 1937, in the height of the Senate debate over FDR’s ill-fated (and ill-considered) measure to reorganize the U.S. Supreme Court by adding a number of new justices.  The so-called "court-packing" plan rocked the political world, raising fears that FDR’s landslide re-election victory in 1936 had spawned dictatorial ambitions in the president. 

What is also intriguing is the recipient, a Mary Orr.  The most prominent person in that era with that name was a young Broadway actress.  The Canton Ohio-born Orr was very intelligent, later becoming a successful playwright and a writer whose first published short story became “All About Eve,” winner of the 1950 Academy Award for best motion picture.  In 1937, Orr was still was a sought after ingénue actress, but perhaps the drama of the Senate debate inspired her and her party’s visit.

Later in 1937, Senator Black would be appointed by FDR to replace Justice Willis Van Devanter, one of the “Four Horsemen,” conservative justices who had banded together to oppose progressive ideas throughout the early 20th century.  Black’s brief membership in the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama would make his confirmation rocky, but on the court he proved a reliable supporter of civil rights. Within three years after Black joined the court, the other three of FDR’s judicial foes were dead or had resigned, and had been replaced by progressives like Black.  It seems time had its own reorganization plan.


  *My identication might be utterly fanciful. The current phone directory website shows over 100 Mary Orrs currently in the U.S., statistical evidence that I could be full of beans. 

RALE 1.4.  (Photos linked to flickr entry).


Green Acres Is the Place To Be: Iowa Supreme Court Strikes Down Gay Marriage Ban


In an unaminous decsion, the Iowa Supreme Court today struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage on the grounds that it "violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution" by "exclud[ing] a class of Iowans [gay and lesbian couples] from civil marriage."

The Iowa court site is a little swamped so I'm making it available here.


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Law Review Announces 2009-2010 Editorial Board

It just occurred to me that this list may not have been announced on a venue outside our intranet. This is an excellent group of students and I have no doubt they will build on the successes of their predeccessors:
The University of Louisville Law Review is pleased to announce next year's editorial board:

Editor in Chief: Michael Swansburg
Senior Articles Editor: Leah Campbell
Senior Notes Editor: Adam Stotts
Symposium & Alumni Relations Editor: Mari-Elise Gates
Executive Editor: David Haney
Managing Editor: Andrew Palmer
Articles Editors: Chad Propst, Jessica Richards, Ian Richetti
Notes Editors: Barry Dunn, Jenna Glasscock Johnston, Trista Moss
Associate Editor-Bluebook/ILL: Brian Pollock
Associate Editor-Symposium: Brian Stempien
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Filson Historical Society Program on William Marshall Bullitt at Oxmoor, March 15


Former Solicitor General William Marshall Bullitt was a graduate of the UofL Law School and a leading louisville attorney.  His portrait hangs prominantly in the school's stairwell.  Local attorney will discuss Bullitt's life in "Oxmoor’s William Marshall Bullitt" on Sunday, March 15 - 2 p.m at Oxmoor (call the Filson Historical Society at (502) 635-5083 for more details. 

From the Filson Society:

"Louisville’s William Marshall Bullitt (1873-1957) was a lawyer of national prominence who used his skills as attorney and mathematician to win huge cases before the Supreme Court. As a young man he served as President Taft’s solicitor general, representing the federal government in all of its cases before the Supreme Court. After inviting himself to the Hiss trials, Bullitt’s courtroom antics brought international attention."

"Bullitt built a library containing more than 10,000 volumes at his home on the Oxmoor farm outside Louisville. In his collection were priceless publications of the seminal works on mathematics and astronomy. This interest kept Bullitt in contact with his many prominent friends."

"Retired Louisville lawyer Mark Davis will tell us about Bullitt’s interesting life rebuilding the 1170 acre Oxmoor Farm, about his keen detective-investigator instincts, about the many lawyers with whom he associated, about the local institutions he controlled, and about an unusual burglary from Oxmoor’s wall safe."

"There is no cost for this event though reservations are requested."

Kentucky General Assembly Flexes Its Muscles


Just when I thought that the Kentucky General Assembly was going to cruise through to the end of the session without passing any laws that raised interesting legal issues under the state or federal constitutions, the last couple of weeks have produced three passable bills that may end up in the courts on such grounds.

The first proposal of interest is jointly proposed by Senate leader David Williams (R-Burksville) and House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg) and seeks to create a powerful legislative investigative organ under the Legislative Research Commission (LRC). The plan, embodied in Senate Bill 188 & House Bill 540, appears to raise several issues.  The press and Common Cause are concerned with language exempting the agency records from open records laws and court subpoenas.    While the good government groups may be  rightly concerned as to this lack of transparency, there doesn't seem to be a readily apparent constitutional issue here.  However, the provision commanding the assistance of the attorney general and state auditor-both constitutional officers-may violate the separation of powers provisions of the state constitution. (Stumbo has suggested that he is considering dropping this section).  A knottier question involves the powers delegated to the LRC. They appear to run afoul of language in the leading case on the separation of powers and the limits of the legislative power, LRC v. Brown, 664 S.W.2d 907 (Ky. 1984).  In Brown, the state Supreme Court opined  that the admittedly vast powers of the legislative branch were nonetheless extinguished when it adjourned sine die and found that the LRC could not be used as a mechanism to extend them. 

Another bill that would likely be challenged is the new executive agency ethics law, just approved by the Senate and under consideration in the House.  Among a mix of worthy and petty provisions, one section of Senate Bill 2 bars anyone giving $50 or more to a gubernatorial candidate from doing business with Kentucky state government for 18 months. (The law does not apply to campaign contributions to legislators--must be a typo). Ending any hint of pay-to-play on behalf of road contractors might be a great idea, but it could be argued that setting such a small amount as the trigger is an impermissible restriction of a citizen's free-speech rights under the U.S. Constitution. See Randall v. Sorrell, 548 U.S. 230 (2006).

Senate Bill 187, sponsored by Sen. Dan Kelly (R-Springfield), perhaps raises the most straight forward constitutional issues.  It would give the legislative branch a veto over the governor's executive orders. Those orders of the governor deemed to involve policy would have to be ratified by the legislature by enactment in its next scheduled session or else they will expire.  This law appears to be a bold violation of the separation of powers provisions of the Kentucky constitution. 

Section 27 defines the separation of powers:  "The powers of the government of the Commonwealth of Kentucky shall be divided into three distinct departments, and each of them be confined to a separate body of magistracy, to wit: Those which are legislative, to one; those which are executive, to another; and those which are judicial, to another." Section 28 prohibits the intrusion of one branch into the powers of another: "No person or collection of persons, being of one of those departments, shall exercise any power properly belonging to either of the other." 

Besides meddling in the acts of another branch, the bill also depends on what could be argued to be a defective exercise of the legislative power. If the legislative branch wants to negate a gubernatorial policy, the constitution provides the method: it can pass a properly framed law through both houses and override the governor's veto.  The bill, however, has the legislature setting state policy by not acting.  Neat trick.


Illustration: Roman statue of Aristotle, first political philopher to outline the benefits of the separation of powers doctrine.

A Forgotten Dean? Thomas R. Gordon


As many know, the current University of Louisville has absorbed the history, alumni and traditions of the many Louisville institutions that it merged with over the years.  Among these institutions was the Jefferson School of Law, which was founded in 1905 to provide legal education at night and weekends to working-class Louisvillians.  Its early boosters were Benjamin F. Washer, Judge Shackelford Miller and, the subject of today's legal ephemera, Circuit Judge Thomas R. Gordon, who served as the school's dean in the late teens and throughout the 1920s.

Gordon, a Democrat, was elected to the Jefferson County Circuit Court in 1902 and served in that capacity until his death in 1929.  Gordon's parents were both born in Georgia, but had settled in Owingsville, Kentucky by the time that young Thomas was born in 1854.  I have not yet ascertained details of his early education, but in 1890 he joined with University of Louisville graduate John C. Strother (class of 1869), a Trimble County native, to form the extremely successful partnership, Strother & Gordon. The firm, which was dissolved by neccesity upon Gordon's election, had among its clients such prominent institutions as the Mutual Life Insurance Company of Kentucky and the Louisville Title Company.

After his election in 1902, the voters faithfully returned Gordon to office until 1929, when he died of a stroke, complicated by heart disease.  (At this time, death did not prevent a good Democrat from voting; it was, however, a more severe impediment to standing for office).  Judge Gordon was buried among his constituents in Cave Hill Cemetery.

The item reproduced is a campaign calling-card of a type widely used in elections in Kentucky during this era. The obverse (shown left; click for larger version) has a simpler message, using the long-time symbol of the Kentucky Democracy, the proud rooster.  In the lever-action voting booths of my youth, this symbol (along with the Republican log cabin) clearly marked the switch one flipped to vote the straight ticket.

For additional information:

Cox, Dwayne, and William James Morison. The University of Louisville. Lexington, Ky: University Press of Kentucky, 2000.

RALE 1.3.  (Photos linked to flickr entry).


Obama Commerce Secretary, 3.0: Another Lawyer, Perhaps?


I hesitate to write on yet another possible commerce secretary, but CNN is reporting that President Obama is planning to appoint yet another lawyer to the post, former Washington Governor Gary Locke, a 1975 graduate of the Boston University School of Law.  Locke, a Chinese-American, will add additional ethnic (if not occupational) diversity to the cabinet.  He is currently associated with the international law firm, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP; the law firm's connections with China could be an issue in his confirmation hearings.

Official biography as Washington Governor | Wiki bio | DWT bio

RALE 1.2: Alan Page, Tackling the Big Cases


With the ProBowl underway it is appropriate to post a 1978 trading-card for Hall of Fame defensive tackle Alan Page. Page is (with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron “Whizzer” White) perhaps one of the two great “two-sport” (football and law) players to ride a judicial bench.  White may have reached a higher pinnacle (for now), but the Colorado-born running back’s three NFL seasons cannot compare with Page’s reign as one of the greatest defensive players of all-time.

Page began his career winning a national championship ring in 1966 for Notre Dame. He anchored the Minnesota Vikings famed “Purple-People Eaters” defense in the 1970s, in 1971 becoming the first defensive player to be named as MVP. He was voted to nine consecutive Pro Bowls, 1969-1977 and in 1988 the Canton native joined the Football Hall of Fame.

At the same time he was flattening offensive backs in the autumn, he was attending law school in the spring.  In 1978, Page graduated University of Minnesota Law School and joined the law firm of Lindquist and Vennum.  In 1992, Page was elected to as Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, becoming the first African-American to join the state’s high court. He was re-elected in 1998 and 2004.  This year, Page was asked to choose the three-judge panel deciding the election dispute involving Minnesota’s U.S. Senate seat.  Page has been suggested (at least by bloggers) as a possible appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Repository of American Legal Ephemera, vol. 1., no.1.


This is the first issue of an occasional feature I call the Repository of American Legal Ephemera, where I’ll pull an item from my motley of legally oriented artifacts, mostly printed but once and a while something more three-dimensional, and show it along with a few sentences (or more) about its context.  Readers of this blog will not be surprised; I’ve already featured a 1960s era flyer from a Jefferson County (Ky.) judicial race, a poster of an Eastern Kentucky magistrate candidate with a penchant for poodles, and an Illinois political button rendered ironic by time.

Maurice Rickard, author of several works on the phenomenon, defined ephemera as the "minor transient documents of everyday life."  Tickets, flyers, broadsides, advertisements, identification cards, these are the butterflies for the ephemera-collector's net.  Librarians and curators tend to limit the category to nonbook print materials, using the term realia for artifacts, but I like Rickard's definition because it reflects the most interesting quality of most ephemera--their immediacy and single-mindedness.  A ticket is to keep out gate-crashers, an advertisement to promote Saturday's sale.  When the ball game is over and the furniture is sold, the ticket is dropped on the floor and the ad is thrown away.  Except one or two survive and (unwittingly to the item's makers) these fragile bits of paper become windows into that moment in time.

This week’s entry is a button from Judge Janice Martin’s first campaign.  Janice Martin was appointed to the Jefferson District Court Bench in March 1992 by Governor Brereton C. Jones, becoming the first African- American woman to join the Kentucky judiciary.  She was later elected to the bench in November 1992 in a campaign in which the following button was distributed to supporters. (As I recall, I picked it up one evening when I joined several fellow law students to staple together a huge batch of yard signs  in Judge Martin’s basement).  Martin received her B.A. in 1977 and her J.D. in 1980 from the University of Louisville. Sadly she, along with colleague Toni Stringer, retired to the senior status program in early 2009, leaving Jefferson County (which is 19% black) without an African American on its judicial bench. (This could be remedied by Governor Beshear who must name her replacement).